Sustainable living by Laurie Baker.

What is sustainable living? Sustainable living means we prioritize the use of natural and renewable resources instead of creating excess waste and depleting environmental resources for future generations. When a community practices sustainable living, they help the environmental quality. Maintaining a sustainable lifestyle helps reduce your carbon footprint. When a community pursues sustainability, air pollution reduces. Clean air is key to a healthy community.

Laurence “Laurie” Baker was called the “Gandhi of Architecture”, and rightly so. Laurie Baker, a pioneer of traditional building methods, was known for his use of locally available materials to build energy efficient and low-cost buildings. Laurie Baker developed his own style of architecture, which went on to become very famous and people started referring to it as Laurie Baker Architecture. When he first arrived in India as the Chief architect for the Mission of Lepers, he was faced with a fresh challenge. All the buildings he inspected, the construction and design styles were strikingly different from what he had learned in School of Architecture, back in England. He was greatly inspired by the techniques used by the locals for building houses, for which they used materials like laterite, cow dung, rice husks, Bamboo strips and palm fibers, which not only slashed the cost but also was extremely durable.

Long before the threat of climate change became a global concern, Laurie Baker, The Gandhi of Architecture, saw the necessity to design energy-efficient buildings. It is this which inspired several of his unconventional construction techniques and building elements. This also explains Baker’s aversion to concrete in construction. The main constituent of concrete is cement—one of the most environmentally hazardous building materials. Baker never had any drafted building plans and most of his construction techniques were created on-site to deliver specific requirements of his clients in Kerala and are not formulae that can be blindly adopted in all similar situations. His choice of building elements varied according to the purpose and scale of each project, he improvised at every stage of construction. Here is a brief list of Baker’s techniques in construction and their significance in the context of cost and environmental resonance.

THE RAT TRAP BOND:- Introduced in Kerala during the 1970s by renowned architect Laurie Baker, the Rat-Trap bond, is a double-wall technique, that significantly reduces the cost of construction, minimizes material and mortar usage, and helps achieve greater thermal efficiency without compromising on the strength of the wall. In Rat-Trap masonry, bricks are positioned vertically so that the 110mm face is seen from the front elevation instead of the traditional horizontal alignment.Moreover, the presence of the internal cavity yields thermal and sound insulation. This makes Baker’s Rat-Trap method both an energy-efficient and an economic alternative to conventional brick masonry.

FILLER SLABS:- We know that concrete can resist compression but is weak in tension. In an RCC slab, concrete is required in its top half. So the concrete in this portion (bottom) of the slab can be replaced by low cost, lightweight filler material like Mangalore tiles or clay, etc. Filler slabs are employed by replacing this purposeless concrete by a filler material thus reducing the weight of the slab and hence the cost of construction. Since the weight of the slab is decreased, the requirement of reinforcement steel is also decreased, further diminishing the expenses in construction.

Several of the available building materials including stone, cast iron, and concrete can strongly withstand compressive forces but easily fail when tensile forces, shear, or torsional forces are applied to them. However, to overcome this limitation, a long-lost strategy for resolving all forces into compressive forces has been brought to the forefront again by Laurie Baker. Arch and dome structures inherently possess the ability to eliminate tensile stresses in encompassing an open space, owing to their shape. Just like arches, domes too have a tremendous amount of structural strength and can span a large open space without supporting structures.

Doors and windows with no frames are a unique feature of Laurie Baker constructions. Door planks are either screwed together with strap iron hinges or held together with horizontal or diagonal battens to form cost-efficient doors and simple pivotal windows. Door and window frames are responsible for nearly half the timber usage.

Laurie Baker had no choice but to observe and learn from the methods and practices of vernacular architecture here in India. He soon realized that indigenous architecture methods and materials were in fact the only viable means to deal with local problems. He felt that local housing problems can be solved only by using local materials.